Japan’s Smallest Mountain, Tenpôzan 日本一低い山天保山

Atagoyama (Mt. Atago) is a popular rakugo story in which two Osakan taikomochi (professional male entertainers for hire — kind of like the male version of geisha) accompany a rich man from Kyoto and his entourage of geisha on a hiking-picnic trip to Mt. Atago, a 924-meter mountain in the northwestern part of Ukyô-ku, in Kyoto. The rich Kyotoite half-jokingly apologizes for making the young men from Osaka climb a mountain. This is the exchange that follows:

TAIKOMOCHI: And just why do you think it’s such a problem for Osakans to hike up mountains? …

RICH KYOTOITE: Well, it’s a problem because nobody’s climbed a real mountain in Osaka! Anybody and everybody from Kyoto has experience climbing mountains, but you don’t have any mountains in Osaka, so…

TAIKOMOCHI: W-what? Now that’s not true. We’ve got mountains in Osaka!

RICH KYOTOITE: Okay, where? You tell me where one is.

TAIKOMOCHI: What do you mean one, we’ve got plenty of mountains! Mt. Sanada, Mt. Chausu, Mt. Tenpô…

RICH KYOTOITE: Oh come on, you can’t call those mountains! Those are little more than bumps on the ground!

TAIKOMOCHI: Bumps on the ground, humph!

The taikomochi don’t have much of a case in waging Mt. Tenpô (or Tenpôzan), in 1831 a manmade mountain of about 20 meters, against Mt. Atago (or Atagoyama), which was more than 900 meters taller. The Osakans insisting on arguing the matter, though, says something about their hometown pride and about Tempôzan having a special place in the hearts of people from Osaka.

The Tenpôzan vs. Atagoyama argument is even funnier today when one is aware that the Osaka “mountain,” located  in Minato-ku near the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyûkan, is a mere 4.53 meters! Tempôzan was leveled in 1854 to make space for an artillery unit. It’s height in the Meiji period was 7.2 meters. As a result of overuse of ground water following Japan’s post-WWII economic recovery, Tenpôzan continued to shrink. By 1977 its height was down to 4.7 meters. Tenpôzan was even temporarily removed from maps for being so small, only to cause Osaka’s citizens to cry out in protest. Tenpôzan, celebrated as Japan’s smallest mountain, is back on maps today.

On a jog today I visited Tenpôzan Park for the first time. I was interested to see if it, or the view it offers, at all resembles the several ukiyo-e I’ve seen that feature Tenpôzan. If one can mentally block out the modern anchorages, buildings, fishing boats, and other ocean-bound ships, one can imagine the Tempôzan of the late Edo period. Pine and cherry trees have been replanted throughout the park, and this reminds one of the Tenpôzan of old, depicted in ukiyo-e such as Utagawa Hiroshige I’s Osaka Tenpôzan in the series Honchô meisho.

I found the Tenpôzan “peak” and was surprised to see it was no more than a small, square, granite stone marker in the ground, too small to even be called a stepping stone. An older gentleman watching me from a distance soon approached and asked me to stand atop the peak marker. I followed his instructions.

“Congratulations!” he said enthusiastically. “On this day, June 12, 2011, of all the famous mountains to climb, you have chosen Japan’s smallest, Tenpôzan, 4.53 meters. As you have successfully reached the summit, I hearby present you with a certificate stating so.” With that, he actually gave me a certificate, complete with a handsome Tenpôzan picture postcard. Upon closer inspection I learned the certificate is produced and distributed jointly by the Tenpôzan Shop Owner’s Club, the Tenpôzan Park Conservation Club, and the Minato Autumn Festival Planning Committee. I thanked the man and was on my way.

What a climb I had up the mighty Tenpôzan today! Now that I’ve had the Tenpôzan experience, I don’t think the taikomochi in the story Atagoyama were out of line after all — this “mountain,” a historic amusement spot and the traditional marker of the waterway entrance (Ajikawa, or Aji River) to Osaka, is certainly one to be proud of.

If you’re in the neighborhood, Tenpôzan Park is worth a visit.










天保山 vs. 愛宕山という話は現在、特に面白いですね。だって、港区の海遊館の近くにある天保山はもう、4.53メートルの高さしか残っていません。1854年に河口を守る砲台を建設させるため、山土の削り取りが行われまして、明治時代に高さが7.2メートルになってしまいました。高度経済成長の後、地下水のくみ上げのため、天保山の地盤沈下が起こり、1977年までに4.7メートルまで標高が低下しました。小さい過ぎるため、天保山が日本の地図より一時期消されていましたが、大阪市民がこれに対して怒り出し、強く反対したので、今日は日本一低い山である天保山はちゃんと地図に載っています。




今日、立派な天保山で本当に素敵な山登りでした。天保山の経験をして、「愛宕山」の太鼓持ちを見直しました。今更、全然言い過ぎじゃないと思っています。だって、歴史的な遊興地である、大阪への伝統的な水路の入口 (安治川) の印である天保山に誇りを1000メートル以上持つべきだと僕も思います。



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